The Leftovers is one of the most challenging, complicated, divisive series on air. It should therefore come as no surprise that the S2 finale ‘I Live Here Now’ proves to be a challenging, complicated, divisive episode. Let’s bitch it out…It would be an understatement to suggest that the second season of The Leftovers was anything other than revelatory. The series attracted a small*, but loyal – and vocal – audience as it expanded its focus from S1’s grief porn to something more accessible, but no less powerful and engrossing in S2. Unlike so many series that suffer sophomore slumps or simply replicate the successes of the previous season, The Leftovers experimented with different narrative techniques, including a ten minute cold open set hundreds of years in the past and an entire dream/fantasy/alternative reality episode. Clearly this is a series that is unafraid of being polarizing, or pushing the conventional boundaries of television, or stretching its (and its audience’s) comfort zone. The fact that so few people watched S2, which produced not only amazing television, but also a great many of the year’s best performances, is very unfortunate.
*If online numbers can be believed, the viewership for S2 was very low. Like beat by repeats low.
Here we are at the end of the road*. After a season in which the Garveys/Dursts moved to the safest place on earth and a militant offshoot of the Guilty Remnant (GR) follows them, ‘I Live Here Now’ brings everything together for a dramatic, somewhat anti-climactic finish that ties all of the dangling plot points together for an emotional send-off.
*It may be the actual end as HBO has yet to make a formal decision on S3, though if they do it will be solely based on the rapturous critical reception and not on any kind of financial incentive.
I imagine that the viewing reaction to the finale is divided, perhaps more so than any other episode outside of the extremely unconventional 2×08 ‘International Assassin’. I appreciated the parallels to the S1 finale, which similarly found Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) struggling through an apocalyptic nightmare unleashed by the GR in an effort to find his way home. Whereas ‘The Prodigal Son Returns’ delivered on its threat to unleash a powder keg of violence on Mapleton, ‘I Live Here Now’ is less interested in establishing battle lines. Meg’s plan (Liv Tyler) to flood Jarden with outsiders – not blow up the bridge as many of us wrongly speculated last episode – feels inevitable; it’s a development that feels like it has been in the works all season. So much time has been spent establishing the rules and procedures governing the entry and exit conditions formalized to keep people in and out of town, it’s only natural that the finale would seek to explode those boundaries in order to establish a new world order.
On one hand, this inversion of expectations reinforces how The Leftovers refuses to trade in conventions and tropes; the series seeks to tell its own stories, while still paying off its various story lines and character arcs*. On the other hand, there’s no denying that the third act of the finale feels anticlimactic as a result. Watching Kevin struggle over the bridge, to the hospital and then home before he bleeds out from his close range gunshot is compelling, but hardly gripping television and the return of the imaginary/hallucinatory hotel from ‘International Assassin’ had me echoing his expletives rather than cheering on the writers’ dedication to narrative continuity.
*Consider the lack of bomb: we knew there wasn’t one in the RV last week and we know Meg prefers fear to actual violence from her scare tactic with the grenade on the school bus. As a result, we should know not to expect the bridge to explode. It is only because conventional television has primed us to expect explosions that we believe that Meg’s plan is founded on an act of terrorism.
Still, it’s hard to deny how earned the emotional payoff is that awaits Kevin when he returns home. As the camera slowly pans across the room to reveal his extended family, including Matt (Christopher Eccleston), Mary (Janel Moloney) and Tom (Chris Zylka) – whom he didn’t even know was in town – I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a hugely cathartic moment. Throw in Matt’s ecstatic reaction when his vegetative wife wakes up, Nora’s (Carrie Coon) panicked reaction when the mad woman abducts Lily in the tent city, and neighbour Erica’s (Regina King) desperate reaction to daughter Evie’s (Jasmin Savoy Brown) appearance on the bridge and ‘I Live Here Now’ has more than its fair share of deeply emotional, compelling scenes. As a stand alone, the episode doesn’t entirely satisfy, but as a culmination of the season (and perhaps the series), it is solid and never anything less than compulsively watchable.
In short, The Leftovers has cemented its place as one of the best shows on television. Let’s hope that HBO sees fit to order a third season so that Lindelof and Perotta have the chance to astounding us anew next year.
- The finale essentially confirms everything we suspected about John (Kevin Carroll), but even with the tortured background, John felt like the least interesting, relevant character of S2. Obviously there’s no point speculating on what didn’t happen, but I would have loved more time with other characters at the expense of the time we did get with John.
- Kevin’s overly candid response to John’s inquiry about why Evie faked her disappearance/Departure struck me as oddly reminiscent of Matt. If an unhinged father were holding me at gunpoint, I don’t think I would suggest that their daughter doesn’t love them. It’s like baiting a charging bull.
- Kevin’s resurrection from two near death experiences over the course of the season will likely spur further discussion about the series’ position on magic and spiritualism. Lindelof has very carefully danced around such inferences, suggesting that the writers have done copious amounts of research how people could take poison and being shot at close range and still survive. Regardless of these claims, it’s hard to overlook the religious symbolism in Kevin’s Purgatory scenes or his return from beyond the grave.
- When Kevin is forced to sing karaoke in order to escape from the hotel a second time, it felt like a queer pairing of Lynchian aesthetics and the Caritas scenes in Angel when Lorne forced individuals to sing in order to see their souls/future. Side Bar: I’ve read comments from some viewers that the musical choices on the series are too often on the nose and I can definitely see that claim being true for this particular song choice, which felt too heavy handed and obvious.
- One big payoff that was identified online that never occurred to me is how Tom protects Nora and baby Lily, echoing his S1 arc when he was responsible for protecting Holy Wayne’s offspring.
- Meg and Evie singing the Miracle song to Kevin in the welcome centre is just the right amount of creepy perfection. I still can’t believe how this series managed to turn Liv Tyler into a crazed psychopath.
- My wish list for the finale: more Coon and more King. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with ‘Lens’, which is a strong contender for my favourite hour of TV in 2015.
- Meg (to the park guard when he tells her that the park is closed to remember Oct 14 despite not suffering any Departures): “Not really your holiday, don’t you think?”
Your turn: what did you think of the finale? Is it a satisfying wrap up to S2? What would you have liked to see more of in the finale? What was the best scene in your opinion? The worst? Finally, will you be upset if HBO doesn’t move forward with S3? Sound off below.
The Leftovers has wrapped up its second season. HBO has yet to renew it for S3.